Explanation of Position following the Adoption of the UNGA72 Second Committee Resolution on Illicit Financial Flows

Jason Lawrence
Adviser for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 28, 2017


Thank you, Mr. Chair. The United States firmly believes that combating money laundering, corruption, and other related crimes is essential to our common security and economic prosperity, and we appreciate the opportunity to address these threats today. However, we also find it necessary to express our serious concerns about the language in this resolution, which in our view undermines our ability to work together constructively to address these challenges.

Most importantly, in this resolution the General Assembly fails to acknowledge clearly the central importance of the UN Convention against Corruptio, UNCAC, as the primary global legal framework for combating corruption and recovering stolen assets in the UN system. With 183 States Parties, the UNCAC’s Conference of States Parties serves as the lead governing body in this field in the UN. Unfortunately, by adopting this resolution, the UN General Assembly has undermined the ability of the UNCAC Conference of States Parties to lead this global conversation based on common legal obligations and the input of national law enforcement experts; in fact, the negotiations on this resolution conflicted directly with the Seventh session of the Conference of States Parties held November 6-10, 2017 in Vienna. The resolutions adopted by the Seventh COSP in Vienna succeeded in areas where this resolution does not, particularly more accurately identifying measures, consistent with UNCAC, that governments must take to prevent corruption in the first place, as well as to prosecute corruption and to return or dispose of stolen assets derived from corruption.

In addition, while we acknowledge that the term “illicit financial flows” has been utilized in prior resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, the United States generally opposes its inclusion because it is a term with no agreed-upon international definition. In the absence of any common understanding of what constitutes illicit financial flows, we should be clearer about the specific underlying illegal activities that produce or contribute to this threat, such as embezzlement, bribery, money laundering, other corrupt practices, or other crimes. We also do not agree with the implication in the resolution that developing countries are more affected by illicit financial flows than developed countries – many of whom have large financial sectors that can be negatively affected by criminal activity. In this context, all Member States should focus more concretely on measures they can take at home to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the underlying acts of corruption that lead to the creation of proceeds of crime in the first place, and measures that encourage transparency and accountability in the use of recovered assets so as to ensure that recovered assets are best utilized to benefit those harmed by acts of corruption. This resolution does not achieve that objective.

The resolution places an extreme focus on asset return or disposition to the detriment of other critical steps in the asset recovery process that are just as important to our efforts to fight corruption. While the eventual return or disposition of stolen assets to requesting states, prior legitimate owners, and victims of the crime, as outlined in the UNCAC is a key goal of asset recovery, it is only one part of the equation. Equal attention and resources must be devoted to establishing competent domestic legal and regulatory frameworks and institutions necessary to facilitating the proper detection and investigation of criminal proceeds and the freezing, seizure, and confiscation of the same. By focusing almost exclusively on the return of assets, and not also acknowledging the importance of these other equally integral components of the process, this resolution undermines the balanced approach, reflected in the UNCAC, that is necessary for countries to successfully recover stolen assets.

While we recognize that some states do have good practices in asset recovery to share, we are concerned about singling out specific practices promoted by certain states in this resolution.

We also do not believe that asset recovery is a tool of sustainable development. While these issues may be linked, in some cases, this resolution implies that they must necessarily be connected. Asset recovery has traditionally served a number of purposes, with law enforcement and fighting impunity being the most prominent.

With regard to this resolution’s references to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and climate change, we addressed our concerns in a General Statement delivered on November 17.

Finally, we are disappointed that this resolution chooses to add yet another controversial annual agenda item to an already overly crowded Second Committee Agenda. In the years ahead we strongly caution against substantive debates through Second Committee on highly technical topics that are best addressed by other, more appropriate organizations with technical experts in attendance. To this end, we urge closer collaboration with Vienna-based UN entities and bodies that have the expertise to deal with these issues, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and the UNCAC COSP and its Asset Recovery Working Group. We also encourage broader engagement with institutions such as the Financial Action Task Force and the nine Financial Action Task Force Style Regional Bodies, FSRBs, and the Egmont Group. It seems unnecessary and wasteful to take up Member States’ time in the General Assembly with poorly constructed discussions on a highly technical subject that is already regularly and more substantively addressed in such a wide range of other more appropriate forums.